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tv   Three Mile Island 40th Anniversary  CSPAN  March 31, 2019 6:31pm-8:01pm EDT

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in u.s. history. and edwarduel walker the legacy ofd three mile island. we begin near three mile island with a guest who lives near three mile island. this is about 90 minutes. march 28, 1979, the events just outside of harrisburg, pennsylvania. minutes, we look back at the three mile island accident, which was the partial meltdown of a reactor. occurred 40 years ago, the incident rated a five on the seven point international nuclear event scale. as the story continued to unfold, here is how ed bradley of cbs news covered it.
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>> it announces that there is an evacuation. please stay indoors with your windows closed. >> this is not a community that scares easily. major floods and hurricane agnes have come here and the towns survive. for almost a week last month, the people of middletown, pennsylvania, lived in fear of an enemy they couldn't see, hear, or feel. >> that is from cbs news. the fear is radiation following the nuclear at generating station. consider the most serious nuclear power accident in the history of the u.s.. we will look back at the events that occurred. eric epstein joins us live. he is the chair of the three mile island alert, which is what? it is a safe energy organization. we were founded in 1977, two years before the accident. we are nuclear watchdog group
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that monitor the three nuclear power plants on the susquehanna river. what dou were there, you remember both when the news first broke and as the story continued to unfold in the days and weeks that followed? is interesting. you covered mr. bradley's comments. we had a response from our family. i was away at college but we had a family furniture store. floods, a fire, we were hunkered down. we delivered a dining set on saturday, the day after evacuation. like a lot of folks, there was confusion, anxiety, chaos. the company was providing disinformation and misinformation as you can tell by the lieutenant governor's comments on the day after the accident.
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the evacuation was for preschool children and pregnant women. that target population was five thousand. approximately 144,000 people evacuated. at the time, we weren't prepared for an evacuation. i'm not sure we could execute one now. the relocation centers are right outside of the 10 mile zone. one outside of hersheypark and the other at william penn high school. we called a shadow evacuation, when you declare an evacuation, people leave. they left. a lot of people left not knowing if they were coming back. this is people, because an agricultural community stayed to take care of livestock and animals. a lot of people were conflicted. what do i do? 24 7,as not the age of 365 news cycle. the big issue at that time was the lack of trust. difficult andore
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confusing was the china syndrome had just been released several weeks ago. it did not have a baseline knowledge, some journalists were tasked to go see the china syndrome before covering the story. on wednesday, things occurred when we heard there was a problem at tmi, we didn't know whenamage until 1982-83 the temperatures reached 4800 degrees. there were two prongs to the accident. onks had to respond based little to no knowledge in the company didn't help as we found in the utah report, they intentionally misled the governor as to the severity of the accident. host: when we heard from the cbs report, keep your windows shut. with that have made any difference at that time? again, ed bradley captures
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the uncertainty and the unpreparedness of the company and the government. i interviewed people on the west shore of the river who were told to go home, there were kids in elementary school who were told to put a book over their head and hold their breath. these precautionary instructions would have little to no impact on mitigating the exposures of radiation. evacuationn the occurred it was unreasonably warm. had chaos. people coming to the school to pick up kids. remember, some people have kids in elementary, middle, and high school. not knowing if they are coming back. one of the things we found after the accident was the community suffered from chronic elevated psychological stress. cooling towers behind us are haunting. 1979 until 1985, the other
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plant that wasn't involved was actually shut down for refueling at that time. that plant was shut down. there was a fierce battle of whether we should restart the plant. mixed's responses were and confused. it wasn't helped by the fact that the company misled the governor. on sunday, if you recall the event begins on wednesday, president carter came on sunday. i think that call a lot of people. the real hero was the mayor, robert reed. he stayed behind. common people had uncommon courage during that time. this community is no exception. , we aree, lived here revolutionary era, we are not going anywhere. we survived floods and fires. unfortunately, acorn meltdown is not something you expect to have to survive. de-fueled, it hasn't
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been decontaminated or decommissioned. only operated for 90 days. it was supposed to operate for 40 years. we still have a high level of a radioactive on the river that may never be cleaned up. in a sense the accident still continues. host: my guest is eric epstein. we are dividing our phone lines regionally. if you are resident of pennsylvania you can join us by calling in at (202) 748-8002. what happened 40 years ago? don't know if you want to call it an accident. an accident is when idea runs in front of a truck and gets hit. this was an anticipated disaster. the relief valve, which opened as it should had indicated on the channels that it closed and it hadn't closed. we had a loss of coolant accident.
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it wasn't until there was a shift change that the valve was closed. we found out through the department of energy years later that temperatures were about 4800 degrees. that was significant. a core melt accident which led to the fuel being exposed and interacting with oxygen, which creates hydrogen. that created a hydrogen bubble scare. a lot of us didn't really know what that meant. fear of the unknown, you have the china syndrome in the background, misinformation, disinformation. the governorriday and commissioner agreed to do a precautionary evacuation. the hydrogen bubble issue gradually receded. the plant was put into cold shutdown. one of the things that happened this wasloss of trust, a conservative republican bible belt area. i was one of the people who
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thought this was a great thing, a magical technology. this was the future. it was hard to believe that not only could it fail but as it was being built we were told it was as likely as a meteor falling from the sky. not only did it fail but we were misled. in this area, once you lose trust, it is hard to get back. host: let's get to our phone calls. don: good morning. i appreciate c-span having this piece on. i really would like to note that while three mile island is absolutely an accident, fuel , no substantial fission products were released to the environment. it was all contained as designed. .adiation levels were minor
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no one was hurt. no bad health effects occurred. of the designed to absolutely mitigate and contain the worst-case accident. host: thank you, we will get a response. eric: that is an absurd assertion based on bad science. that was breached could have been anticipated. inre was a similar incident 1978, the year before. rate, the0% failure man is absolutely misinformed. the monitors went off, filters were clogged. the monitors at that time could only absorb low-level amounts of radiation. if you look at the dose of the amount of radiation released, which is still controversial because we did not have exact measurements.
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we are looking at anything from 10 million to 200 million. if you look at the health studies beginning with columbia, pittsburgh, north carolina, the health study last year which found increased thyroid cancer at penn state. the facts on the ground to demonstrate people were harmed by three mile island. there were huge releases of radiation. there was at least four different surveys taken of people who lived in the nexus of -- pathway of radiation exposure. folks around here don't lie. they reported sunburn, i.e. rotation, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, all consistent with radiation exposure. it isieve strongly that probably closer to 100 million. that debate has kind of been settled. if nothing really was released you would have to ask the company why they settled with
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the excess of $100 million. host: physically, geographically, where are you located? three mile island is interesting, it is actually 2.2 miles. we are the closest nuclear airport -- nuclear power plant to an airport. you can't fly over disneyland but you can fly over three mile island. about 12 miles from the capital. it is very difficult to contact people who don't have a phone to evacuate, we are close to the amish. to the west is york county. this was going to be an energy park. you had three mile island behind land to the bruno isal west, you had a hydro-dam, and if you go to the community across from us, there is a plaque that says this is the future.
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was great and still is great waterskiing and fishing. i came down here to recreate as did everybody. i was pro-nuclear and things changed. of are in the heartland conservative republican bible belt pennsylvania. let's go to any joining us. annie: i have a comment to make about your 30 day calling rule. be 89-year-old mother would say, i have a bone to pick with you. .ou have a caller he has a distinctive voice and has called in several times. times.called them four
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i have left comments a few times. up i recognize his foes. how are you doing? -- i recognize his voice. duly noted. we will do our best to make sure steve does not get through. guest: i am really sick of it. i was 24 years old when that happened when -- when the happen, three mile island happened. were decisions made in the area because of the fallout? thank you for your time. guest: but the really good question. this is an area where we were asking where are we? this is an area where people came to visit. we are right next to the amish. lancaster county.
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people came here for hershey and the gettysburg battlefield. a whiff of losing all of that. this was a place he wanted to go to. gettysburg.caster, after the accident we became a pariah. hershey is interesting because hershey was -- stopped buying milk. they froze it. is about nine days. they froze it and used it again. that was one of the push backs you got. tourism went down. people did not want to come to the area. you still have hershey bars, hershey chocolate. they did not use the milk. they froze it and use it later. it's a legitimate issue. being born and raised there, i love living here, so i feel fortunate to live so close to hershey and lancaster and gettysburg. i encourage people to come here. there's a certain amount of dark
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tourism. people like to snap pictures. but if i can put a plug-in i still think hershey chocolate is the superior product. host: go to bonnie and lancaster, pennsylvania. good morning. caller: good morning. what do you want to know? brother -- my father was clutching his coin collection. i thought he was going to pass out. i lost two classmates. ,hey said they believed downwind -- they lived in bainbridge -- they died from it was and they think tmi. remembered -- i guess
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they took a barge across. my father was born in 1916. but it was a cornfield. number four, tmi is called three mile island because it is three miles from the center of middletown. host: thank you. guest: i have heard that before, three mile island -- it had a host of names prior to this honestly. she raises a good issue. one of the things i would encourage people to do is go to the tmi survivors facebook. there are members that discuss the health effects they had. we did surveys. -- surveys were done marriott is born, newbury -- newberry township.
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were still doing surveys. you can get them online at study that indicated an increase in thyroid cancer for folks living in three mile island. they will expand that study, continue to look at it. unfortunately, three mile island does not have a cancer registry for its workers unlike the department of defense. the commonwealth of pennsylvania no longer treks the incident. it's kind of up to the citizens. i encourage people to go to facebook or the webpage. you mentioned the film "the china syndrome" which was released a couple weeks before the accident. here's a trailer from the 1979
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movie. > [video clip] syndrome.""the china peopleout people people who live. and people faced with the admits only truth. like kimberly, a television reporter they to smile, not to think. >> a veterinarian who makes house calls on sick fish. richard, the cameramen who never learned to play the rules. jack, an engineer who knows too much to tell the truth. have defense. we announcer: and carers too much to live. cares too much to lie. announcer: it begins with a tremor in a nuclear power plant. ends lies with three
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people. jane fonda. jack lemmon, michael douglas. "the china syndrome." that trailer from "the china syndrome." put that in perspective. quote i would extract the "safety in depth." that used to be the mantra. redundancy syndromes. in rcically have seen me turn into a laissez-faire regulatory body. that happened in 1999. c turnhave seen the nr into a laissez-faire regulatory body. i think we're falling back to 1979. i do not see safety in depth anymore.
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we see older players, aging plants. every 12 refueling months, now 18, now every two years. the other thing that was chilling about "the china the spokesperson was eerily reminiscent of the spokesperson for metropolitan edison at the time, which only compounded the fear and anxiety. and as we listen to barbara joining us from new jersey -- good morning. caller: -- barbara, are you with us? we will try more time for barbara in new jersey. we lost a that call. look back 40 years ago and get a sense of how the story unfolded -- no social media, no cable. what were people telling you? they telling you in
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the spring and summer of 1979? people opposed to nuclear power at the time were marginalized and on the french. there is a critical plant that was shut down because of steam generator problems, similar to tmi, which had steam generator problems. you had rotary phones, or you had to call collect. it was very difficult to communicate. there are networks. people were basically observing what workers were doing. if workers were sending their families away, they went away. but divers were communicating through cb, but if your focus on the information -- truck drivers were communicating through cb, but if you focused on the information from the company, you're confused. people in the matrix visions -- people had to make decisions on the run. people had high anxiety levels. it was a different time.
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ofo not know is having all those outlets are portals of information are better now. i am not sure information gets vetted properly. it's a difficult time in terms of communication. sciences and environmental reporters. there are people with different skill sets. folks in the media trying to get information, trying to get to the truth did not have the background that would be helpful. is the plant in any way operational today? agreement,art of the we executed in 1993, it will never operate again. the problem is -- you can call it whatever you want. it's abandoned. in the 1990's, we had over 1500 workers d fueling the plant.
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we extracted most of the fuel. that fuel was loaded and taken to illinois. thereoblem with tmi 2, was no decommissioning fund. cost $700 million to build. the people in this area spent $3 billion. the irony is people in the area never got the energy. the people who owned and operated company were based in new jersey. is not going to operate. we have not had a human in the basement for four years. the susquehanna river empties into the chesapeake bay. not a great scenario. 1, operating since 1974, may be shut down. it's an older plant. there's talk of railing it out. talk of- there's
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parallel. but to go back to my earlier point, when this plant was sold, it had hundred employees. the amount of tax the company pays has decreased. folks need to know an action that began in 1979, 1979 in the 20th century may not be over in the 22nd century. host: san antonio, texas, good morning. thank you for all of the information you have given. iss 40 years ago, but it that yesterday in some aspects. decommissioning -- how much will that cost? is there an actual nrc plant to do it? nrc offers three immediateecon, the
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decommissioning. that is what the industry does now. i'm a little concerned about that. a third party comes on-site. , which ihird option think would be a horrible option, you reach in the reactor. when it came on monday mother was no decommissioning fund. the industry and the government had no vision how they would clean it up. toember, ratepayers paid build the plant. ratepayers paid to fuel the player. and ratepayers will pay for the decommissioning. 1 has a decommissioning fund, but they can go back to the ratepayers. decon,s likely to be immediately decommission. 2 will probably make history again because they will have to
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find a fourth way to decommission the plant. it's really bizarre scenario where one plant may be decommissioned and this one may not. owned by two different owners. this plant has 520 employees, this plant has zero. our last call from philadelphia, carol, good morning. caller: i'm originally from pittsburgh. i have been to that area a few times. the last time i stayed in a hotel in the middle to neri. i spoke to a woman who said they nearly burned in an accident and it was in the local papers. excellent ins been talking about industry, that he mentioned something about the steam release system and what that contributes to accident somewhat of a doing to keep track of near accidents? host: carol, thank you.
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we have them looking at the scene behind you and we have been looking at the steam release today as well, correct? yes, unit one. unit two is of easley down. down.iously it caught on fire a few times morning 1990's. the cooling tower is basically a nesting ground for swallows. the problem is is a high-level radioactive waste site. unit one has 200 tons of radioactive waste. very interesting because this is one of the last plants -- the color was talking about safety -- let me dovetail to set -- the was talking of safety -- let me dovetail it to say there are -- this is a waste product that has to be monitored for 500 years. this is a funeral where the paul there -- were pallbearer has to
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stay in place for 500 years. even if plant shuts down it won't be until 2022. so in terms of incidents and accidents i would take the time to say if you live near a nuclear reactor what we should be doing is finding a way to get rid of the waste. i don't know anybody that would buy a house with a toilet that led into the front yard and the contracter would say i'll come back 40 or 50 years later. p the toilet is there, the front yard is there, the waste is there. where is it going to go? host: joining us from pennsylvania, the chair of the three mile island alert. thank you for being with us. we're going to continue our look at three mile island. it has been 40 years ago this month. coming up, a former historian
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for the regulatory commission, also the author of the book three mile island. looking back at the events of 1979. and later the acting director of the nuclear safety project at the union of concerned scientists. but first we'll look back at how cbs' walter cronkite covered the events march 1979. >> it was the first step in a nuclear nightmare as far as we know at this hour no worse than that. but a government official said that a breakdown in a power plant in pennsylvania today is probably the worst nuclear reactor accident to date. there was no apparent serious contamination of workers but a nuclear safety group said that radiation inside the plant is at eight times the deadly level, so strong that after passing through a three-foot thick concrete wall it can be measured a mile away. >> the accident occurred here at the three mile island
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nuclear power plant a dozen miles south of harrisburg. at about 4:00 this morning two water pumps that helped cool reactor number two shut down. officials say some 50 to 60,000 gallons of radioactive water escaped into the reactor building and that the radioactivity penetrated the plant's wall. steam escaped into the atmosphere and radiation was detected as far as a mile away. at least 50 workers and perhaps twice that number were at the plant when the accident occurred. a spokesman admitted that some were exposed to radioactivity and may have been contaminated but he claimed no one was injured. all workers were given extensive checks with giger counters as they left the plant. reporters were not permitted inside the facility today but this is what reactor number two's control room looked like last september when it was still undergoing testing. it went into commercial service only three months ago.
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>> cbs news coverage in march 1979 a live view of three mile island. joining us here is samuel walker, the author of three mile island a nuclear crisis in historical perspective. thank you for being with us. guest: thank you. host: walk us through the events. guest: wednesday march 28, 1979 things were going routinely, it was a midnight shift. the shut aye shift. suddenly at 4:00 a.m. in the morning on march 28, wednesday, there was a cutoff of feed water to what was called the secondary system, which raised the pressure which caused according to design a valve to open called the pressure operated relief valve. when that opened, pressure started to build up where it opened so that it would relieve the pressure as it built up in the reactor. that was according to design.
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so things were going fine at that point. but then after the valve had been opened for ten seconds or so, it should have closed and it didn't. and the result of that valve not closing, the valve sticking open, water started to rush out from the reactor, the cooling water that is used to maintain the temperature in the reactor started to rush out and within a fairly short time you had all the makings of the worst incident worst kind of accident you can have in a nuclear power plant. loss of coolant. by that time in the control room alarms were going off, 100 lights on the control panel were blinking. so the operators knew that something was happening that wasn't good but they didn't know exactly what it was. and one of the lessons that were learned from the accident is that you didn't have any instrument on a huge control
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panel that showed that the plant was suffering a loss of coolant accidents. there's no instrument like a gas gauge on a car that shows that water was evacuating from the cooler, and so it wasn't clear to the operators that they were facing a loss of coolant accident. according to design the emergency core cooling systems came on. but the operators were more concerned about what was called in the pressure riser, which is an important feature of pressure rised water plants what is called going solid, too much water in the pressurizer. that's what they would been trained carefully to avoid. they were more concerned about the possibility of going solid than they were about a loss of coolant accident. so they shut off the emergency core cooling systems. one of the pumps was shut completely, the other was closed down enough to stop the flow of cooling water to a trickle. so within a couple of hours, if
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fuel rods were badly damaged and within a couple of hours after the valves stuck open you had a major loss cooling accident and we found out much later you had a meltdown. tmi 2 on the morning of march 28, 1979, suffered a massive core meltdown. >> president carter visited shortly after the accident. he was a nuclear scientists, a nuclear physicist having been trained at the neavel academy. did his visit ease the concerns? we should point out you were from this part of the state and your brother served in the house of representatives elected just a few years before. guest: yes and yes. i'm from the area so it a great deal of empathy and i still do. president carter's visit to the island was on sunday. this was five days after the accident occurred. and his visit was extremely important in reassuring the
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population that things were not in terrible shape. no one knew at that point that the plant had actually suffered a meltdown. but his visit was important in letting the people of central pennsylvania know that things were more or less under control and one should not exaggerate the confidence that people felt on that morning about things being under control. but the fact that he would come there and visit the plant and go into the control room was a major reassurance for people of the area that things, that if they weren't under control would be taken care of or else carter wouldn't have shown up. host: here is what president carter said just a few days after the accident occurred. >> the president came to the plant for one very simple reason. to assure the people that if the president of the united states and the governor of pennsylvania were standing there together, right at the
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plant site, that obviously there was no reason to believe that the whole thing was going to blow up at any minute. obviously, that would reassure the population that we're going to have plenty of advanced warning if we have to get out of here. >> back to middletown, the president praised local officials and then without actually using the word referred to what everyone here has been thinking about for days. evac was -- evacuation. >> i would like to say to people who live around the plant that if it does become necessary your governor will ask you and others in this area to take appropriate action to ensure your safety. f he does, i want to urge that these instructions be carried out calmly and exactly as they have been in the past few days.
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host: that's coverage of the events 40 years ago. could it happen today? guest: it's less likely to happen today. we learned a lot from the accident. the major lesson that was learned was not that enough attention to what were paid called human factors as a cause of a nuclear plant accident. what we with learned after three mile island was that the operators should have been trained better. we also learned that the instrument panels had tob to be redesigned so that they could provide useful operation which the operators were not getting as the accident proceeded. we also learned that we had to pay a lot more attention to emergency planning. and we also learned that we have to we -- we being the country. we also learned that we have to concentrate more on plant management. because too many utilities that owned nuclear plants at that time saw it as just another way to boil water and didn't really
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pay enough attention to what needed to be done to make certain that plants were safe. it doesn't mean that an accident is out of the question. but it does mean that it's much less likely than it was 40 years ago. host: if you're from central pennsylvania around three mile island we welcome your participation. our phone lines are open. eastern and central. ountain specific time zones. caller: thanks for taking my call. i'm just wondering if the design of this plant is similar to the one in fukishima, japan. also to my understanding these nuclear facilities are basically uninsureable, they're too expensive to insure so that basically the government has to really back up if there is an accident. am i correct in those assumptions? host: thank you. we'll get a response. guest: the answer to the first
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question is that the design of three mile island was different than the design of fukishima and a lot of questions have been raised about that. but the basic problem at fukishima, as i understand it, was that the siting of the plant was in a very poor place and a lot of questions have been raised quite properly about why you would site several plants that close to the ocean that had a history of tsunamis. so in that sense what happened at fukishima is quite different than what happened at three mile island. in terms of insuring the price anderson acted which was passed early in the history of nuclear power, was passed one to make certain that there was enough coverage for people if there is a major accident in a nuclear power plant. and it simply turned out that
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there weren't any insurance ompanies that had enough confidence or enough assets to ensure a worst-case nuclear power plant as early as 1957 or so there was great concern if you have a major nuclear power accident if you had a major release of radiation, that the damages and the costs in injuries and lives could be much larger than the ability of any insurance company to cover. so that's why the government offered liability insurance for which owners of power plants had to pay in. so that's right, i mean, the government did step in and stepped in both as a way to reassure people and to help to stimulate the growth of a nuclear power industry which was viewed as a national important objective at that time but also to protect people
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who might be affected by a nuclear power accident. host: we were in the area able to get drone aerial footage. jim, good morning. caller: good morning, gentleman. i was teaching science at the time three mile island happened. i heard your guest talk about the human almost o of being something. of course the human element hasn't changed a whole lot in 40 years. i was just wondering if he could hold forth a little bit on the need, when you have the person coming up soon, i believe their stance is nuletralt on nuclear power plants according to design. and i was wondering, if you could talk a little bit about what design elements -- i know the plants are very, very expensive which is why probably they're not being built at the moment. but i believe there's, is it a french design or a design for smaller nuclear plants which
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reduced the possibility of i suppose a major accident? if you could talk a little bit about that. and any other changes that we would see other than obviously a warning light for loss of coolant or something like that. host: thank you. guest: yeah, there is lots of ideas for new designs, some of which have been tested experimently, some of which are still on the drawing boards. and i don't know a lot about them. the original designs which are in plants that are operating now are both based on early designs from the early 1950s for submarines. so it's very possible that the new designs could be put into place that would be safer, that would create less radioactive waste and that would have major advantages over the current designs. i don't think there are going to be many more plants other
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than the four or five that are being built right now of current design. so if we want the nuclear power to be a part of our emergency mix i think we're going to have to find new designs and test them and make sure that they work as they should. host: your brother robert walker had just begun his second term in the house of representatives and from central pennsylvania. guest: yes my brother's district the northeastern boundry of the district was just south of three mile island so he spent a lot of time up in middletown and the area. those five days, they were five acute days of crisis, five days after the accident occurred when no one knew exactly what was happening, there was great concern, understandable anxiety on the part of the people of central pennsylvania but also policy makers and officials in the government. both the state and the federal government. and one of those officials was my brother bob, and he was up there every day trying to find out what was going on and what
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the risks were and what the chances were that there was going to be a major release of radiation. he tells the story, he lived in east petersburg which is within the 20 mile radius and he found out later that his neighbors were watching him and his house, they had their cars packed and they were all ready to go and they found that he and his wife suddenly that they were going, too. it didn't turn out that way but at least that was their way was to preparing was to make certain that they were ready to go, their cars were gased up, they were packed up. and if he left they were going too. host: you look a lot like your brother. we'll share that with the audience. caller: i too lived in the harrisburg area at the time of tmi. what i recall about the
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incident was my parents as well as urgently came to school removed me from elementary school and our family then packed up and headed to pittsburgh where i was from. but the question i was calling to ask about is both of my siblings had sickle cell anemia. after the evpbt experienced bone marrow suppression. so neither had enough supply of blood to last them more than a week or two with regard to their condition. i've always had the question with regard to radiation in the air, if you want to term it that, what were the effects short of cancers that we may be discussing and debating here now 40 years later from the immediate effects? i look at that through the context of the lens of a scientists but also thinking of some of the other mass casualty events, for example with the bombings in japan, chernobal, what is it that we've ever been able to discern with some of
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those immediate effects and specifically with bone marrow suppression or people with sickle cell anemia or anyone for that matter had been a likely sort of effect of what had happened? host: before we get a response, how are they today? caller: my sister's deceased, unfortunately. that happened in 1988. my brother is alive still living in harrisburg. host: thank you for the call. any connection? guest: well. host: or can you desimb? guest: let me address the general question first. and that is the amounts of radiation that were released. it's certainly true there weren't a lot of monitors on the morning of the day of the accident the utility that operated the plant metropolitan edison had 20 radiation monitors surrounding the plant out to i think about 12 miles. that wasn't enough to be sure how much radiation escaped.
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but it's also true that if large amounts of radiation had escaped from the plant that it would have shown up. i mean, after the first day of the accident there was -- that there were helicopters that the department of energy was operating that traced a plume, there were measurements being done not only by the utility but by the nrc, e.p.a., food and drug administration, by the state of pennsylvania. and if radiation in large amounts escaped, it would have shown up in food stuffs, in the water, if there had been large amounts of ide 891231 it should have shown up in milk. so you can't hide radiation. if there were large amounts, they would have shown up. the eep deem lomingcal studies that have been done there's controversy and conflict but the best of those studies or he study that has the best
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data that has the best base for understanding what happened in terms of illness of the population studied a cohort of more than 32,000 residents who lived around the plant within a five mile radius and studied them for a period of 20 years. in those cases, those 32,000 people had been interviewed by the state department of health for previous exposure to radiation where they were during the accident. so it's a really spled did data base and that study has shown no increase in cancer above normal rates. i'm sorry that i can't address your specific question and i'm sorry for the illness of your family. there's no guarantee and we never know exactly what causes
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those kinds of illnesses. the chances that it came from radiation that escaped from the plant are unlikely. host: our guest semyull walker former historian for the regulatory commission also the author of the book three mile island a nuclear crisis in historical perspective. walt is joining us from pittsburgh. good morning. caller: i was in ohio in 2002. what i found out it's not just the accidents. it's the greed involved. one plant up there caused a huge blackout. instead of having brownouts here and there they shut down a large area, and that was the greed of the plant manager and the people involved trying to make themselves looked good. the other was in ohio, a nuclear plant, the same company. instead of them doing anything they waited to the last minute. fortunately there wasn't a lot f damage done but i believe --
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, rather than the guy running the plant getting it fixed he caused more trouble by letting it go. that's what i have seen. i worked in steel mills. i would rather work in a nuclear plant than a steel mill. steel mils back in the 70s through 90s were way more dangerous. host: thanks for the call. guest: for all the lessons we learned that there still are problems, and that's why we need strong regulation and the industry is doing a much better job, a much stronger job of regulating itself, especially company management. but we also learn that we have to be humble because the nuclear plants are large and complicated, and they're hazardous. so we have to live with that. and there are no -- there's no guarantee and there was never
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any guarantee even back in the 50s when the power industry was first beginning no one was saying at least no one in a responsible position was saying an accident is impossible. they were saying it's unlikely, we're going to do everything we can to make certain it doesn't happen. but no one in their right mind is saying you can never have an accident. so even in more recent times less than 40 years -- i'm an historian. so anything less than 40 years is recent times for me. things still go wrong. host: we welcome our viewers on c-span 3's american history tv. 48 hours of history every weekend on c-span 3. you can check out the full schedule on our website. caller: good morning, gentlemen. i look forward to reading your book. what a coincidence, because i was with jim nelson and michael
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douglas, we made the movie the china syndrome. are you familiar with that movie? guest: oh, yes. i start my book with that movie. caller: well, what a terrible coincidence, the movie when we released that three days after it was released, a nuclear physicist was on television. he said the chances that we were depicting in that movie was one in 100 million or more. well, then three mile island, a total of ten days we heard about what was going on there. now, i was under cover. i checked all nuclear power plants all over the world. now, we're trying to deal with all the waste, like here in nevada, if you're familiar with what they're trying to do about that.
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host: let me jump in quickly. explain specifically your role or involvement in the film the china sinned e roam. caller: i did the research on all the nuclear power plants. to be honest, i think it should all be shut down and just go to other kinds of fuel, because there is never a catastrophe , with e -- like in japan all the radiation and the water and all of the fish that became sick and, you know, it just to me we got so many other ways to go, you e know, i'm not one to say but it would be a lot safer. now, i noticed on the screen you're showing the china syndrome. so i just wanted to say hello
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and i appreciate the fact that you're on here discussing it with the people, because if there is a serious -- well, look at chernobal. horrible, too. that's all i wanted to say, and i appreciate you gentlemen bringing all of these facts to the public. host: thanks for adding your voice, again going back to that film that came out about a week-and-a-half before tmi. guest: and when the accident occurred it was being shown, it was still being shown in two theaters in the harrisburg area and they put on extra showings on friday and saturday nights, which were the most tense days, the most anxiety-filled days of the five days of crisis after the accident occurred. on those two nights, the two theaters in harrisburg put on extra showings of the china
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syndrome and apparently the theaters were packed with those extra showings. host: linda in minneapolis. and robert thanks for adding. what a great adition to the program. caller: good morning. i have a couple of questions. i think they're pretty quick to answer, maybe. the first one and perhaps the most important is -- or the more important one is i wondered if there was any information about how this problem of nuclear waste can be safely solved. insolvable? goes away. it never what's to do with the waste. the second is maybe connected to it is what is the status of the hanford plant in east washington? host: we'll get a response. guest: those are great questions. i did write a book on
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radioactive waste sometime after my book on three mile island. so the history of that is in there. it was not well handled by the atomic energy commission, the nrc's pred sec ss or the agencies. and these are good scientists, think there's a technical solution. it's reasonable. you're never going to get a solution that satisfies everybody. but the political equation or the political problem might be and probably is more insolveable than the technical issues. in terms of handford, handford is still undergoing a large cleanup. the hanford plants, the aec and its successer agencies, at ast for a long time, did not handle radiation hazards as carefully as they should have. it's being cleaned up. the government is spending a lot of money to clean it up. i don't know what the status of
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it is now. it's a lot better than 25 years ago and it still has a long way to go. host: good morning. you're on with sam walker. caller: hi. mr. walker, i want to ask -- i want to know if a lack of water in the reactor had anything to do with the problem. host: thank you. guest: if the water -- host: if the lack of water had anything to do with with the reactor itself. guest: the lack of water had anything to do with the reactor itself. of water had a lot to do with the fact that the reactor meltdown. what the water does is keep the plant cool. the normal operating temperature -- a nuclear power plant is degrees. if you lose the coolant, you have a problem, and is exactly what happened when the valve stuck open.
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having to do with the water, i don't think so. there was a loss of water and that is what caused the valve to open and then not close. host: i wouldn't to underscore -- i want to underscore a point, this plant was brand-new. it has operated a total of three months. the lesson from that is? guest: a lesson from that is build it right. [laughter] there were lots of questions raised and lots of investigations done after the accident occurred both by the commission, kennedy why the state of pennsylvania, by congress and others, there were things that weren't clear. those were valid questions because utility, it turned out, was not well equipped to run the plant.
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but according to all the licensing parameters that governed the licensing of the plant, it met those standards. so the accident came as a huge shock to everyone as it did meet standards, yet you had a major, major accident. host: the book is titled "three mile island, a nuclear crisis in historical to your core our guest is samuel walker. thank you for being part of the program. your brother.o guest: thank you. host: coming up in a moment, we take a look back, 40 years since the crisis at three mile island. he is the author of the book "fukushima: the story of a nuclear disaster." aturday night live took aim 1979. we want to share that with you. ♪
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>> turned that thing down, can't eat. [phone rings] >> right. guys, get this out of the way, he is coming. >> this is of the main control room, mr. president. [laughter] with nucleariar facilities, you know, i am a nuclear engineer. >> and a damn good one. >> thank you, sweetheart. >> he is the chief engineer, he was there when the accident occurred. >> give it to me straight. >> pressure near to critical and coolant popped number 2, the negative sanction on the control dust negative function on the control panel prevented us from causing a minor explosion. >> sounds to me like a pepsi syndrome. [laughter]
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were there any soft drinks in the control room? me.k, you got you are too smart for me, mr. president, sir. i spilled a large coke on the control panel. >> there you have it, mr. president. human error. >> i guess you figured it out. let's get out of here, please. >> just a couple more moments, sweetheart. i don't get to do this every day. matt, right now, what is the level of radiation inside the containment vessel? >> mr. president, we don't know. the large coke knocked out our monitoring systems. no one has been able to go inside. >> i would like to go in and check it out. i have never seen a reactor. >> mr. president, it may be dangerous. >> jim mcdermott why don't we just go and visit the hershey factory? [laughter] know how to handle myself around a nuclear facility. besides, have mala boots on! [laughter]
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nbc, that was courtesy of talking about three-mile island. joining us in the studios, edwin he is the nuclear safety project acting director of concerned scientists. thanks for being part of this conversation. we have had a couple of phone calls on fukushima. have there been any. parallels of the sons between tmi and fukushima? guest: yes. unfortunately, my book found that there were lessons that should have been learned at three mile island that weren't, and as a result, it made accidents like fukushima more probable. host: house so? so?t: --how guest: after three-mile island, never comprehensive safety measures. for instance, look at all the
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reactors, do a comprehensive review of all the vulnerabilities and asked to close those vulnerabilities. but the nuclear regulatory commission in the connected a subset of those recommendations timid.was there were certain accidents like what happen in so cushy muck, a complete loss of electrical power that they realize could have been a problem, but it did not take the steps to make sure the lance would be able to deal with that appropriately. looked at what happened in three-mile island and change their own policies. but they did follow the lead of the united states. host: let us look at nuclear power in the u.s.. 100 nucleararly plants in operation across the country. how significant is it in terms of our overall energy and electricity? 20% of thes roughly electricity generated in the
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united states, a significant component. nuclear power is an electricity source. gates has talked about nuclear power as a way to deal with climate change. draw the connection. guest: certainly, it can play a role in mitigating climate change, like renewable energy sources, it is not generate carbon. but nuclear energy has its own risks, as three-mile island and fukushima have shown us, and you have to respect those risks. if you rush headlong into an expansion of nuclear power without understanding those risks better and trying to reduce them, we run the risk of repeating those accidents and may be making nuclear power completely untenable. terms, can you's explain how nuclear power is generated? what is the process? guest: it'd really is a fancy way of boiling water, as mr. walker said.
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it is based on the property of nuclear fission. nuclei types of atoms, are unstable. when they can split, they energy. so, nuclear energy, whether it is for a weapon or for a power plant, is harnessing this nuclear fission process by trying to do it in a controllable and sustainable manner. host: and the lessons from tmi 40 years later, are they building new plants and applying those lessons. ?ost: guest: in the united states right now, there are on the two new nuclear plants under construction, and those are what are called evolutionary varian technology.t there are similarities to reactors like tmi but also some differences. those differences have not proven to be of significant cost savings that the utilities . host: originally thought they
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would be what is fukushima like today? guest: the site is still a mess. there were three reactors that melted down. the course. cores melted through their vessels. there were hydrogen explosions, which led to accelerated activity. they have contaminated water that is a community at a very rapid rate every day. they have to keep pouring water cores to keepaged them cool but that is keeping the water radioactive, and they have nowhere to dispose of it, so there are just building more tanks. they have a decommissioning cleanup problem a decades long, plus the surrounding area is contaminated. current estimates are at least 200 billion dollars of economic damage for the cleanup and decontamination. host: $200 billion?
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guest: that's right. host: edward lyman is our guest. as we continue our look at three-mile island 40 years later, and the future of nuclear power. we have a caller. good morning. caller: good morning. very valid points brought in by everybody. i was a naval nuclear inspector in the department of defense on our submarine and aircraft we ensured that there was redundancy. there were lessons learned from three-mile island that are very applicable. --is a very redundant system that hasn't built into it since you have learned from three-mile forget,and don't
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everyone of our ships out there, not everyone, but most of them, are nuclear powered. host: robert, thank you for the call. true thatis redundancy is a very important fact of nuclear power safety, diversity and redundancy. if you have a failure in one system, you have a backup you can rely on. unfortunately, it costs extra money. today, the industry is under financial pressure. part of that is at the expense --additional backs additional backups and redundancy. i worry that it is motivated by a complacency or believe that an accident like tmi or fukushima is very unlikely to happen again, and why spend money paper systems that we don't need? that is a think when the problems going forward with nuclear power. host: our guest is the former
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president of the nuclear control institute here in washington, d.c. he earned his doctorate in physics from cornell university. from indiana, thank you for show.g thank you for the my question has to do with the fuel that you use and the waste products. are there other elements that can be used besides a uranium? i have heard that there are other possibilities. i wonder if on the nuclear powered subs, is it used as a source? thank you. host: thank you. guest: uranium is the fuel for naval reactors at this time. there are other types of elements that could be used as nuclear fuel, but uranium is the one that is the most well-established, it belongs -- there is a long history with it, the commercial fuel cycle is based on uranium. was pleasantlyel
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introduce other problems and complications, so even though enthusiasm in of some quarters for another fuel, it is not that easy to use it. host: from tampa florida, go ahead. caller: yes. actor, professional actor in the screen actors guild and was working on a tv movie in manhattan. my girlfriend was from middleton. she was supposed to go there and then this thing happened. i saw the panic in the streets of new york city. panic?as there a lot of guest: i was actually in ninth grade in new york city at that time. . certainly, there was concern. we were far away, so -- but the , the news and information, not knowing what to
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believe, the discussion about the hydrogen bubble and other possibilities led to greater uncertainty. was not the accident that could've happened, we did not see massive radioactivity, but even today, nuclear power plants, most of them are in assuming full-like liketures -- swimming pool structures. my colleagues have estimated that if there were a fire in a reactor in pennsylvania called peach bottom, it could impact areas as far away as new york city or boston depending on weather conditions. so it is not out of the question that a severe nuclear plant accident could affect communities thousands of miles downwind. after three-mile island, how long did it take to build another nuclear power plant? guest: in the united states, a
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couple of decades. there were many products under development or. in construction at the time. three-mile island was one factor, but only one factor in why many of them were canceled. a couple of those actually were still viable. there was a reactor completed in 1996 which is the first one completed after that wave of cancellations. host: from florida, charlie. caller: thank you to c-span for having discussed on. i used to work on the energy subcommittee in capitol hill for a number of years. a lot of times people don't realize that we have had something over 40 major excursions where we have had near meltdowns on nuclear reactors. i had a couple of questions. had accidents in idaho of energy lab, the of all
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kinds of fluoride stored at research facilities like an oak ridge and portsmouth, ohio that is at risk. the other thing is the cost. we have had 30 to reactors planned, and after fukushima, they have almost all been canceled -- 32 reactors. reactors that two andida was going to finance they basically cancel that. it is amazing to me that we still rely on mostly coal power in the united states and we haven't come up with a vital alternative. though, if you go out west, there was a lot of wind power. the only problem is that we lose generatedof our power
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at a power plant by the time and gets to the house, because of the outdated network that would have in transmission of power. i would just like to get something from the guest about what is the next step in power generation if we can't afford nuclear, and we can't really depend on coal for ever and ever, wind is going to be less than 1%, something like 30,000 wind power generating power is to make the same amount of electricity that a regular coal power plant could generate. elon musk put a solar panel over the entire roof and put batteries inside the walls, is that the answer? guest: i will not pretend that i am an expert in renewable energy policy. my focus is nuclear. can say is that my
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organization believes climate change is a serious threat and there has to be radical transformation of energy policy both in the united states and abroad in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which would be a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees celsius. in order to do that, there has to be what is called a deep ddeep ecarbonization. of options, and it is really where society wants to put its research and development dollars to pursue development and energy policies. nuclear power is one, it has its own liabilities. arety and security nonnegotiable, so once you solve those problems, you may take
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nuclear power off the table. then, there are other renewable sources like solar. i think once society as a monetary value the price of carbon and of the externality of putting carbon in the atmosphere appropriately, then nuclear and renewables will have to compete with each other. so there are a lot of options and they need to all of the explored. host: with one resident calling it an ongoing disaster, this headline looking back at the 40th anniversary of three-mile island, saying -- we were told a nuclear accident was as likely as a meteor falling from the sky. calls.your phone jackie, from arizona, good morning. caller: i have a two-pronged question. thisave predicted accident because of sri lanka. could schlanger have been
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related to this incident -- could sri lanka have been related to this incident? host: could you explain? caller: because of this anatomy. and could it be related -- because of the tsunami. and could it be related to the way you treat human beings on earth? guest: are you talking about the fukushima incident? caller: absolutely. host: so to address the issue? guest: mr. walker brought this up, he thought the main cause of fukushima was that it was in the wrong place. i disagree with that, because although the site was vulnerable , there was no historic precedent that you nami theve a tsu size that occurred in 2011.
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in the united states, almost all plants were designed with standards of seismic risk in mind which were not what we understand the current risks to be. experiencing greater flooding and seismic risk are greater than what they were designed for. so yes, i would agree that that the safety and security responsibilities of the it boils down to how they respect public health and safety. host: from hawaii, al is on the phone. good morning=. caller: good morning. thank you for taking my call. innically, i was involved the antinuclear movement in the period right after three-mile island. it motivated me to get into solar and renewables. hawaii was origin of a
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solar-thermal and eventually something else. thatestion, i guess, is beenost, there have studies, they seem to be trending towards renewables in terms of the dollar per watt cost, or dollar per megawatt cost for renewable projects, especially when you include the massive cost of decommissioning, even when a project doesn't failed. these are things that -- i am kind of jumping around, i know you know what i am talking about. the reality is that the dollar now -- thiswables plant in hawaii is so cheap, utilities is the big push, but
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when you have metering, distributed generation, meaning solar on the house, with no batteries, utility was just allowing the power to be exported to the grid that was not used, as you made it come and you buy back the power of the same rate, it was phenomenal. another trend is because of the affordablehat make power for utility scale, they have been successful at lobbying the utility commission into phasing out net metering, and that will of course be a detriment because it makes the economics look more prohibitive. host: thank you. your response? guest: yes. as i said before, there are many options, but unfortunately, energy policy is not -- the way it has evolved is very local, it is really a competition of commercial interests on both the local and national scale. there isn't a coherent approach
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to energy policy that would actually be consistent and value all the different aspects appropriately. that is one of the problems we are facing. you have a lot of competing interests, the nuclear industry, the fossil fuel industry, you have a lot of muscle in washington and at the state level and a lot of these issues will be decided based on political power and lobbying. that is really not how we see the latest problem is going to be solved. everyone needs to sit down together and take a common set of facts and understanding and come up with the best path forward. oft: our guest is the author the book "fukushima: the story of the nuclear disaster." you can follow the work office organization on the website ucfa .org. our callers whether we should continue with the use of nuclear power.
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75% saying yes, 25% saying no. you can weigh in on and also follow the coverage and or website, from farmington, good morning. caller: thank you. i have a question. an earlier caller said that many of us are varies use nuclear energy. many of our submarines using nuclear energy. what happens to the nuclear waste? the fuel from naval reactors is used up, it goes to storage primarily in the state of idaho in department of energy facilities. that waste now is being stored. it will have to -- it is waiting for the same resolution but all fuel atercial-spent nuclear power plants is waiting for, that is a national solution, which we believe has repositoryp geologic
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or other waste can be isolated from human environments over the hundreds of thousands of years it will remain toxic. that is another challenge that our country is facing, to find a repository that has both technical validity and public acceptance. host: our next caller is from vermont. go ahead, please. caller: good morning. thanks for taking my call. i was curious if you are familiar with the situation that happened in vermont? guest: to some extent. the reactor has been shut down and decommissioned. caller: right. it seemed that there were a lot of people who cheered the closing and were happy about that. just, didn to you is you have a comment if that was the right move? could it have been salvaged, closing it down, did it outweigh
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-- did the benefits outweigh any disadvantages of, now we have to burn more fossil fuels to get the energy was producing? thank you. host: thank you. guest: we did not take a position on the shutdown of the plant, though it did have some serious problems faced by aging nuclear plants around the country. for instance, piping that was in ad to carry water slightly radioactive, contaminated waste, that piping was not intended to be maintained over the lifetime of the plant. it is very difficult to fix that problem. aging plants have some issues some components and systems are maybe too expensive to replace safely. it is on a case-by-case basis.
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a position one vermont yankee, but certainly, it was leaking and it was not clear that the problem could be solved in an economic fashion. host: we are alive at the three-mile island training facility in middletown pennsylvania. we will listen to tony joining us from dakota. caller: mr. lyman, you said that you didn't take a position on this nuclear energy. i haven't heard one positive .hing about it guest: i don't think that is true, i did talk about low carbon generating potential. but there are a lot of cheerleaders for nuclear energy, and i see my role as helping to clarify what the risks and the benefits are so that people can make informed decisions. that is our contribution.
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time ina lot of my washington here at the nuclear regulatory commission, helping or trying to press the regulators to do the right thing and make sure nuclear plants are safe and secure, and unfortunately a lot of the things ice t are not favorable -- things i see, are not favorable. i think it is in everyone's interest, whether you are a grown up their power or anti-nuclear power, to make sure job.egulator is doing its we saw what happened with the federal aviation administration and the certification of the 737 , there are now concerns that the f.a.a. delegated to much authority for inspections cap boeing itself and other aircraft companies, and that is the trend i'm afraid is happening in the nuclear regulatory commission today. that there is great pressure to delegate authority
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to reactor owners to inspect their own plans and not even tell the commission in cases about problems that arise or changes they want to make. if you support nuclear power you should be concerned about that. host: we have less than a minute left. california,de, quick question. caller: my question is, one, how many nuclear plants are in many throughout the united states are still in operation? guest: today i think there are .8 reactors at 60 sites in florida, i believe, there are three, but i would actually have to check. turkey point and st. lucie, those are the two stations. turkey point has two, and they want to build a third. i am not sure about st. lucie. the: edwin lyman is with
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announcer: >> next on the presidency, three of george h w bush's former aides discuss their time with him. the george w. bush presidential center hosted this 40 minute event. >> when it comes to president bush 41, there is no greater treasure trove of story then in addition to secretary baker, which was a real treasure, the former aides to president bush.


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